Sunday, 10 June 2012

I am not Michael Gow, but feel free to confuse us


Michael Gow (left) and Keith Gow (right)
Both writers. No relation.

Psst, I have a secret that I want to share with the double-digit number of people that read this blog. I am not sure it’s wise to share this tidbit of information, since it has led to some awesome meetings and awkward pauses and hilarious confusion. But I think I’ll whisper it here, just to prove I’m not trying to use this confusion to my advantage.

I am not Michael Gow.

I am also not this Keith Gow - but I was only ever possibly confused with him once at an AWG event in Sydney about ten years ago. It was cleared up when I went up to grab my conference pass and I was clearly not an 80 year old man.

Michael Gow is best known for writing Away, Sweet Phoebe, Toy Soldiers – and being Artistic Director of the Queensland Theatre Company for 11 years.

I am best known for... Painting with Words & Fire? Writing a lot? This blog?

Granted, it’s lovely to be confused with Michael Gow. There aren’t a lot of us Gows out there. Certainly few famous ones. Growing up, the Gow family name was best known as a brand of laundry detergent – but we weren’t related to the vast fortunes of that laundry detergent dynasty. I’m not related to Michael Gow, either. I don’t think. My mum has done a lot of research on family history and I think this may have come up.

The Wooden Leg, the theatre company I co-founded last year, attended the Regional Arts Victoria Expo last week and one of the venue owners briefly flattered me by telling his wife/partner/business associate that he was a big fan of Keith Gow’s writing. My name was on the business card he picked up. I played along, since it’s not impossible for the man to have seen something I’d written – and I would have felt rude correcting him.

“Oh no, wait, I’m thinking of Michael Gow.” He apologised but I kept talking with him about Painting with Words & Fire and trying to get that on tour. That’s the Wooden Leg’s current focus – funding to tour my most recent show. After that, we focus on the second half of this year. Things are brewing.

It’s the name that gets people. How many Gows do you know that aren’t me or Michael? It’s not like people have gotten so confused that they’ve started a discussion on my writing of Away or Sweet Phoebe. But at least it’s a conversation starter. Just not one that I start. Confusion is in the eye of the beholder.

The best thing that ever came out of this confusion was contact by a Hollywood agent. A high-powered agent with CAA. I won’t give names nor talk of their client roster. But big names. Huge names. Ridiculous names.

I corrected the agent straight away, but she had contacted me knowing that I was a writer and knowing that there was a Gow who was a writer in Australia. And while I wasn’t Michael, I was still a writer. That's pretty close. 

And she agreed to read a script of mine. She ended up reading two scripts and a treatment. And encouraged me to keep writing and to spend time making work in Australia before trying to make it in America. And I guess that’s what I am doing – making a lot of work and making a name for myself.

Keith Gow, not Michael Gow. But feel free to confuse us.

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Speaking of Michael Gow, his play Sweet Phoebe is currently on at Revolt Art Space in Kensington

Directed by Paul Knox with Lauren Hopley, and starring Wallis Murphy-Munn and Adam Ward.

This two-hander, about a couple whose relationship is put to the test when they agree to look after their friend’s dog, is moving and hilarious and everyone involved has done an amazing job. Please go and see it.

And I’m not just saying that because I know everyone involved. Everyone, except Michael Gow.

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Speaking of the Wooden Leg, here's a little video - starring me - talking about the company and our vision and a little bit about Painting with Words & Fire.


Saturday, 2 June 2012

Uncommon Things: The Seizure, The Heretic & The Goat


1.

Photo by Lachlan Woods

Ever since seeing their production of Thyestes, I have made it a point to see every production by The Hayloft Project. With the independent theatre scene flourishing in Melbourne, it’s impossible to see everything – even by companies I admire. But Hayloft is as restrained in the number of productions they do as they are in the productions themselves, so seeing all of their work in Melbourne is easy to do. And such a pleasure.

Writer and director Benedict Hardie’s The Seizure, is a take on the myth of Philoctetes – after Sophocles, who tried his hand at writing a play about this story twice in his long career. Hayloft’s work is often defined by its minimalism, but I think this production is its most subtle and graceful yet. The set – charcoal drawings on a white floor/ white wall - evokes the image of a beach on an island, without a grain said or a tuft of grass. The cast of four are rarely on stage together and the dialogue they have is sparse and precise. It’s both the story of Philoctetes and a sliver of the Trojan War myth, narrated by Odysseus, who is merely a supporting player here.

I love stories that are propelled by the force of history, characters living their lives in period settings, unable to stop what we know will come to pass. Here it is the force of myth instead, but the stories are so ingrained in our storytelling and mythmaking, the force is no less strong for it. Another stellar outing from Hayloft.


2.

Photo by Jeff Busby

Director Matt Scholten is a prolific director on the Melbourne independent theatre scene and his work with Daniel Keene is transcendent and rightly celebrated. The other shows I’ve seen him direct are strengthened by his vision. His work on The Heretic is no exception. Unfortunately, even for such a visionary director, it’s easy to see that he had his work cut out for him here. Richard Bean’s play is problematic.

Sure, I wasn’t too thrilled by the notion of a climate-change denier character being the centre of the narrative, but Noni Hazlehurst was sure to make her character more sympathetic than it is on the page. I thought perhaps the story might have challenged Diane’s worldview, but she never so much as wavered from her dogma. And even if I could look beyond the lazy arguments Bean writes for his lead character to spout, I’m not sure the play has anything much more to say.

I was truly puzzled by the point of the entire second act. I tried to see it as an argument between logic and passion. I wanted to know if it was perhaps about the rational scientist versus the irrational lovers. I wondered if maybe it was about how science is supposed to rely on proof but it can often be misinterpreted by wilful people. But none of that works with what is presented.

Scholten and his production team do make the show move – I never once felt like I was struggling  with this two-and-a-half hour show – and feel immersive, with its use of the Sumner theatre’s surround sound system to evoke a thunder storm and helicopters hovering overhead. Otherwise, the sets are functional and uninspiring – and only Noni as Diane has anything very meaty to work with.

3.



I am fairly ignorant of the work of Five Pound theatre, though I am well aware of co-founder Jason Cavanagh’s acting work outside his own production company and his position as owner/operator of The Owl & The Pussycat in Richmond. I am also acutely aware of director Christine Husband’s work as an actor and as a director. 

Disclaimer: Christine directed a show of mine at the Owl & the Pussycat last year and was in Painting with Words & Fire earlier this year.

Five Pound has stepped outside of the Owl & the Pussycat for its production of Edward Albee’s The Goat (or, Who is Sylvia?) and has submerged themselves in the Collingwood Undergound Carpark for this black comedy about love, tolerance and understanding.

Inside the cavernous and echo-y space, Christine has used these elements as strengths and virtues of this production. With audience on both sides of the performance area and the open set (designed by Emma Warren) allowing the space to be observed from all angles, this is voyeuristic theatre at its best. The act of observance suggests that we might all be driven by how people observe us. Is that the tragedy at the heart of this play? Not that a man falls in love with a goat, but that other people might find out about it and judge him?

Susannah Frith and Jason Cavanagh are the stand-outs in the cast, doing most of the heavy-lifting here, as wife and husband, Stevie and Martin. They have to maintain a delicate balance between keeping the performances realistic without the show becoming too dark, too dramatic. There are some great laughs to be had in Albee’s dramatic set-up.

The echoes in the carpark as the actors shouted and cried and grieved draws the audience even closer. Characters appearing out of the darkness and the void which surrounds the performance space was thrilling. A great play in a great production in a great space.

Unfortunately, Five Pound have announced they are postponing the rest of the season – transfering The Goat from the Underground Carpark to the Owl & the Pussycat. It’s a pity, because the show works so well in the carpark space. Sometimes I’m all for performances being up close and personal (I love the Owl & Cat, don’t get me wrong), but sometimes sitting in a cold carpark, wrapped in a blanket, drawn to the only light in the cavernous darkness does something to a show and says something about it. Hopefully more audiences are drawn to the particular light of this production when it moves to Richmond in late June.

But I’m afraid it will lose something in the transition.